I burst out laughing the other day when an order came in for a liter of fish fertilizer and a bar of soap. How appropriate!

It’s true, that liquid fish can get pretty smelly, especially now at the height of summer. And yes, my wonderful, locally made, plant-based soap (now discontinued) is perfect for getting the fish smell off your hands.

The other thing that made me laugh just recently was a set of CBC radio interviews on current trends in hygienic practices. One of the guests summed it up succinctly: “Wash your bits!” The sound advice being, maintain health and hygiene without overdoing it. Our bodies, she noted, neither need nor want daily head-to-toe scrubbing with hot water and all sorts of cleansing agents. You know what the “bits” are… so consider taking care of those once a day, and being more relaxed about the rest which usually doesn’t get all that dirty — except of course after a sweaty, dusty day in the garden.

How does that make you feel? Itchy all over, or comfortable in your own less-washed skin? Well, it all comes down to one’s attitude towards microbes. And for society in general, that has been changing significantly over the last decade or so!

As organic gardeners, working hand in hand with fungi and bacteria is something we do every day. Most likely we are also aware of the exciting ongoing research into the human microbiome. Microorganisms outside and inside the body are estimated to outnumber human body cells by as much as tenfold, and most of these beneficial organisms dwell on the skin and especially in the gut! Intestinal health influences overall physical, mental and emotional health. Due to our modern lifestyle, these microbes are under constant threat by a combination of heavily processed foods (inadequate nutrition), use of topical antibacterials (external imbalances), and antibiotics (internal chemical assaults).

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating an indiscriminate ban on any of these. For sure, there is a small number of nasty pathogenic microbes out there that can make us very sick, and antibiotics have saved countless lives. Similarly there is a place and a time for hand disinfectant (think public bathrooms) or even some processed foods (think chocolate peanut butter ice cream… need I say more?). But everything in moderation. It is important to remember that, generally, the “bad guys” are vastly outnumbered by the good ones. Broad application of poison kills the good with the bad, wiping out a system’s natural microbiological defense team. The answer is not reducing biodiversity, but increasing it!

Case in point, check out this recent report linking antibiotic resistance to the common household disinfectant triclosan. This is just one example of an antibacterial substance being added to everyday consumer goods. A close look at labels and ingredient lists reveals many brand name soaps and cleaners, toothpaste and mouthwash, cosmetics and deodorant, and a range of household products contain various antimicrobial agents.

Fortunately, as we are slowly inching towards a greater understanding of the many positive, even vital roles played by microorganisms everywhere, industry is starting to phase out this harmful and unnecessary practice.

So for skin and intestinal health, I recommend a liquid probiotic product such as Vita Biosa. In the house and garden, both EM mother culture (“ProBio Balance Plus”) and Activated EM perform a similar role in the environment as probiotics do in our gut. In fact, I often refer to EM as “yogurt for the soil”! By the way, here is a neat article from SCD on the difference between probiotics and fermented foods. And finally, for washing your “bits”, reach for a good-ole soap bar!

Cordially yours,